The dreary combination of Stoke’s lack of ambition and a lacklustre Spurs side drained the life from this sullen and joyless match. By the time the referee mercifully ended proceedings, the bright opening period was long since forgotten. Dodging the downpours and puddles on the way home seemed by far the most reasonable option.
Stoke arrived with a reputation and a glint in their eye. They clearly feel that Spurs don’t like it up ’em. We played the right team, Dawson back with Vertonghen on the left so plenty of height at the back with the Beast to add more protection. Yet we never really got going. In the first few minutes, Walker under no pressure passed the ball across his box straight to Jones who blazed over. We thought things can only get better but in fact that sums up the entire game. Like Walker, several Spurs players were diffident and distracted, having a peripheral influence only.
The referee added to the disjointed pattern. Booking Sandro and Vertonghen for high feet seemed harsh, then Whelan, the ‘victim’ on both occasions turned the clock back 30 years with a cynical, deliberately late challenge with nothing but retribution on his mind. No card. Meanwhile the keeper broke down the act of taking a goal-kick into 367 separate movements, all of which had to be executed, in order, before the kicking the ball. Aggravating though it was, their reputation preceded them. At one point the crowd barracked the ref with ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ when he’d given us a free-kick.
Anyway, none of this should obscure the lack of creativity and passion in Spurs performance. Sometimes you realise the true value of players when they are absent or have a poor day. Yesterday, Sandro’s drive and power was largely absent. It left a hole in the centre when we moved forward. Our attacking moves dissolved into isolated runs from individuals and we never established that high tempo which characterises our best work.
Dembele’s firm, angled passes were several times on the point of fashioning a chance but Stoke’s blanket defence stifled our efforts and the Belgian faded from the game as he has done since his return to the side. Adebayor didn’t think or work hard enough, while Defoe picked up the mood of the game and returned to his blast ’em from long range mentality. Both should have done more to work the back four.
Watching Spurs, I like to seek understanding even if inner peace is beyond any Tottenham fan but for the life of me I don’t get why Lennon and Bale swopped wings for almost the entire second half. Maybe it was because Bale slaughtered their left back, Wilkinson, a couple of years ago. Rather than creating width, they continually came inside which compressed the play, playing right into Stoke’s hands. It wasn’t as if Walker was moving into the space Bale enables in this way. Lennon faired better, running with the ball searching for a gap but usually the runs ran out of steam. Bale was relatively quiet but still set up a few chances from crosses in the first half and headed over at the far post in the second. His leg had so much multi-coloured strapping under his shorts, it looked like a squirt of SR toothpaste. He was feeling his way back into things.
Belatedly AVB realised that we needed to pep things up. Siggy came on and duly obliged. If we are trying the answer the question posed earlier this season of what exactly he does, for the moment this is it, to raise the tempo and/or defend from the front if we are ahead. He nearly won it with our best chance, a fine header that the keeper saved superbly low to his right. It was a thrilling flash of brilliance that faded as swiftly as it began, totally out of keeping with the rest of the game. Parker was on too – he could see it, dashing around like a mad thing at a corner. Pointless bringing him on to do this with 5 minutes to go. He might start at Villa – he’s ready to go.
While the thwack of Stoke boot on ball is still ringing in my ears, the fact is that they were quick on the counter and missed good chances, the best bringing a fine save from Lloris after the ball took a slight deflection from Caulker from close in. Also, we played into their hands and by the end were knocking it forward too, as we all drifted forward when we should have been moving around to shift their defenders out of position. Without width or guile, we made it easier for them to stay put in formation.
We are still there in the pack that’s bubbling under and we need to pass judgement only after the Christmas programme is over. Yesterday we forgot what makes us good. Pass and move, pass and move. We should know better by now.